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May 27, 2013

You Never Forget Your First Time

Chas McCarthy, Threatt Moore, Richard Von Gammon,
and the rest of the 1897 Red and Black had an easy time
with Clemson the first time the two schools ever faced off.
First off, Happy Memorial Day!  Secondly, I apologize for the infrequent posts of late, but I recently started on a new endeavor, which has taken up a good portion of my time.  For what it's worth, my new project could very well eventually involve you -- the readers of this blog -- and should launch by the end of July.  More on that at a later date...
Besides what's important, like remembering the men and women who served and sacrificed for our country, Memorial Day is also an annual reminder to me that the opening of another college football season is just around the corner.  Reminded early this morning, I began thinking of Georgia's upcoming season opener while pondering the series history with the team the Bulldogs will be facing. 
About five weeks ago, I discussed Georgia's favorable-turned-equal-turned-favorable-again series with Clemson over the last century.  Although I detailed the single game which would forever change the rivalry, I didn't mention arguably the most historic game between the two schools -- the teams' very first meeting in 1897. 
In a time when the Bulldogs were simply known as the "Red and Black" and the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina had formerly opened just four years earlier, Georgia and Clemson's initial meeting on a gridiron was a "first" which should be distinguished and celebrated (especially since we absolutely whipped "the Clemsons" as labeled by the Atlanta Constitution).
By both teams' season opener 116 years ago, football was still very much in its infancy at the two schools.  Still, having completed only five football seasons, Georgia was fresh off an S.I.A.A. championship the year before and a two-year tenure of eventual coaching legend, Glenn "Pop" Warner. 

Clemson had played in only three football games in its history and didn't even have a home field to play on.  In fact, the Tigers would not host their first game until more than a year later.  Additionally, they would host just two opponents -- perennial powers Bingham and Davidson -- in their first 23 games through 1900.  On the contrary, Georgia had what was regarded as one of the best athletic fields in the South -- Alumni Athletic Field, also known as Herty Field.  And, because they had little alternative to play elsewhere, the two teams met there for the 1897 season opener on October 10th in front of what was described as one of the city of Athens' largest gathered crowds, which primarily sat in the field's newly erected bleachers. 

Around 4 p.m., the Georgia-Clemson series commenced with the Red and Black's Richard Von Gammon kicking off to the visitors.  From there, the game would unfold much like the rivalry has over the last century-plus -- rather one-sided.  On a 110-yard field, for a game lasting just two 15-minute halves, in a sport featuring no passing, and the scoring team not kicking off, but actually receiving the kickoff, Georgia ran rampant over Clemson.  The Red and Black were victorious over the Tigers, 24-0, scoring four touchdowns (worth four points each at the time) while converting all four conversions (worth two points).
Looking more like Dracula than a football coach,
McCarthy had been one of the nation's best fullbacks 
before becoming an undervalued UGA head coach. 

In the initial Georgia-Clemson game, a number of notable firsts resulted worthy of mention.  First, with the return of "Pop" Warner to his alma mater of Cornell, the 1897 Clemson game announced the arrival of Charles (or Chas) McCarthy to UGA.  McCarthy had been a standout fullback for four seasons and a one-year assistant at Brown University before becoming Georgia's head coach at just 24 years of age.  The northerner from Brockton, Mass., quickly won over the Georgia people, who promptly moved on with their fondness of Warner.  It was reported that "of the numerous coaches that [UGA has] had in the past, there has been none to win, so easily, the student-body" as McCarthy.

Initially, McCarthy planned to stay at UGA for just one season while attending law school before enrolling at Johns Hopkins University.  Instead, he coached the Red and Black for two years, compiling a 6-3 overall record.  Notably, McCarthy's two seasons and .667 winning percentage rank tied for first and third, respectively, amongst Georgia's first 13 head coaches during a time when the program had a difficult time winning consistently while keeping its coach.  McCarthy would eventually enroll at the University of Wisconsin and would experience probably the most intriguing non-football, post-coaching career of any Bulldog head coach in history.

The 1897 Clemson game also signified, at least from the evidence I've discovered, Georgia's first individual 200-yard rushing performance in history.  Halfback Jonathan "Threatt" Moore carried the ball only nine times against the Tigers, however, it was good enough to gain 212 yards, including 70 and 40-yard touchdown jaunts.  What makes Moore's unofficial 200-yard rushing game even more impressive is that McCarthy gave him (and the Clemson defense) a rest with seven minutes remaining in the game.  In other words, Moore's 212 yards resulted in only 23 minutes of game play.

In a day when a skirmish would often, if not always, break out during a football game, the first contest versus Clemson might have also been the first time the two sides involved in a Georgia game were actually civil to one another (which seems ironic when speaking of the Georgia-Clemson rivalry).  "No case of slugging being noted," declared a newspaper the day following the game.   
Finally, I mentioned Richard Von Gammon...  He and George Price scored the game's other two touchdowns.  For fullback Gammon, who had been the starting quarterback on the 1896 championship team, it was his first touchdown at Georgia, and would be his last.  As many of you are likely aware, Gammon would be tragically killed three weeks later against Virginia, ending Georgia's 1897 season and nearly the sport permanently in the state.

Sandwiched between the initial Clemson game and the fatal Virginia contest was another noteworthy first in UGA football history: the first victory ever against what would become another hated rival, Georgia Tech.  Like the Clemson game before, the victory over Tech was also a shutout (28-0) at Herty Field.  And, just like the meeting with the Tigers, Georgia and its intrastate opponent established in 1897 a series that too would transpire over time into a rather one-sided rivalry.

May 15, 2013

UGA Should Retire a 5th Football Jersey

Bob McWhorter -- my opinion of UGA's
most valuable football player of all time.
Unless its fully warranted, I'm not a big fan of the retirement of jersey numbers.  I personally feel a particular player should have been the best of the very best during his time in order for a college program or professional organization to retire his number.
Primarily because of a single drought-breaking performance against Georgia Tech in 1957, Theron Sapp's jersey No. 40 was retired by Georgia a few months following the end of a respectable collegiate career.  However, besides Sapp's curious retirement, the Bulldogs have upheld a tradition of retiring the jerseys of only the very best players in their storied history: Frank Sinkwich (No. 21), Charley Trippi (No. 62), and Herschel Walker (No. 34).  

Fairly recently, even the jerseys of the NCAA's all-time winningest quarterback (David Greene) and Georgia's most decorated defensive player of all time (David Pollack) have remained active, and rightfully so in accordance to the program's seemingly lofty standard for retirement.  Still, there is a jersey from long ago that has been wrongly omitted from joining the program's elite, although no player was likely more valuable to a Georgia team before or has been since.

A number of years ago, I only knew of halfback Bob McWhorter as Georgia's first All-American, the first UGA player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (along with Sinkwich in 1954), and the would-be career record holder for touchdowns scored at Georgia if the school considered statistics prior to the 1940s as official.  However, upon conducting research for my first book, I soon discovered the extraordinary back whose value to Georgia, as a sportswriter declared a century ago, "cannot be fully expressed in mere words or even figures."  But, I'm going to make an attempt at it.

To help understand Bob McWhorter's impact, you first have to be somewhat aware of the state of UGA football prior to his arrival.  From 1899 through 1909, the Red and Black won only about one-third of their games (26 of 76).  As horrifying, during the same 11-season span, Georgia averaged just 7.2 points per game.  However, UGA hired the Gordon Institute's Alex Cunningham in 1910, and the head coach brought with him from Barnesville to Athens his star halfback.  And, just like that, a struggling football program instantly turned into one of the more prominent ones in the South.

With McWhorter lining up at right halfback from 1910 through 1913, Georgia achieved a remarkable 25-6-3 combined record while averaging 24.2 points per game.  In 1914, with McWhorter having departed, the Red and Black relapsed, recording just a 3-5-1 mark while being shutout in four of nine games.

As I pointed out in October of 2010, McWhorter should be the school's single-game record holder for the most touchdowns scored...and the second-most, and the fourth-most.  For his career, crossing the opposition's goal line in nearly every conceivable way offensively, defensively, and returning kicks, McWhorter tallied 61 touchdowns in 34 games (he was also regarded as the team's best passer and threw for a number of touchdowns).  Herschel Walker, Georgia's official touchdown record holder, scored four fewer touchdowns playing in two additional games. 

Notably, during their legendary careers, McWhorter and Walker both scored 45.2 percent of their teams' total touchdowns, which rank as the highest amongst Georgia players to have their jerseys retired:

Pct. of Team Touchdowns (Career TDs of # of Teams' TDs)*
45.2- Walker (57 of 126)
45.2- McWhorter (61 of 135)
23.4- Trippi (32 of 137)**
22.6- Sinkwich (30 of 133)
13.7- Sapp (7 of 51)
* Number of touchdowns include those from bowl games played in by Walker, Trippi and Sinkwich, and their teams. 
**Since Trippi missed first four games of '45 season because of military service, touchdowns scored by Georgia in those games aren't figured into team touchdown total. 
Carrying the ball, which is circled, and wearing the jersey
which should be retired, McWhorter runs vs. Auburn
in Atlanta in 1913 during his final game at Georgia.

Besides scoring records, McWhorter would undoubtedly also hold school rushing marks if sufficient documentation was available.  In the season opener of 1913 against Alabama Presbyterian, it was reported he had SIX rushes of 50 yards or more.  Besides likely gaining more like 400, if not 500 yards, what makes McWhorter's individual 300-yard rushing performancethe would-be only one in the history of UGA footballeven more astonishing is that it was achieved with him playing in only two quarters of the game.

In all but a few of his 34 games, McWhorter played the entire 60 minutes of each contest.  This included the 1912 season opener against Chattanooga when McWhorter scored three touchdowns while playing the entire game despite suffering with a heavy cold, and get this, malaria!   Including the '13 Alabama Presbyterian game, McWhorter was taken out on occasion during a Red and Black blowout victory; however, just once in four seasons was he relieved during a game because of injury (Alabama, 1912).

To cap a brilliant career, McWhorter was named first-team All-American in 1913 by Parke H. Davis, selecting for The New York Herald.  In an era when southern football and its players were hardly recognized by the mainstream media, the recognition was much more of an accomplishment than simply becoming Georgia's first All-American.  Consider the following: McWhorter was only the third first-team All-American ever selected from a southern school and, of the 54 players in 1913 named first, second, or third-team All-American by recognized selectors, remarkably, 53all but McWhorterplayed for schools in the Northeast or Midwest.

In 1913, McWhorter was also selected first-team all-conference for the fourth consecutive seasonthe only Georgia player to accomplish such a featback in a time when only 11 players were picked to a squad and more than 20 schools were part of the Red and Black's "conference" (the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association).  McWhorter, who was also an All-Southern center fielder, nearly signed a contract out of college to play for the Class-C Augusta Tourists before spurning baseball to attend law school at the University of Virginia.  McWhorter eventually made his way back to Athens, where he entered business, taught at UGA's Law School, and later served as the city's mayor.

In 1960, McWhorter passed away at 68 years of age on what was called "one of Athens' saddest days."

I've read before there is no way to actually retire Bob McWhorter's Georgia football jersey number because players didn't have numbers on their jerseys in McWhorter's day.  However, UGA football doesn't retire numbers; the program retires "jerseys." 

There are plenty examples of retired jerseys in sports where the retiree didn't actually wear his retired number.  Examples include number "85" for Gussie Busch of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club, which retired that particular number since the former owner was 85 years old when his retirement ceremony was held.  Also, the NBA's New York Knicks have retired "613" for Red Holzman because that's the number of games he won as a head coach.  And, several jerseys have been retired honoring athletes who predated uniform numbers, but were given the equivalent of a retired number ceremony.  Something similar should have been done, or should be, to honor Georgia's McWhorter.

I recently brought this subject up to a fellow enthusiast of Georgia football history, who responded with "But, McWhorter is already inducted into UGA's Circle of Honor."  Yes, he most certainly is along with more than 20 other Bulldog football players, including Sinkwich and Trippi.  The Circle of Honor is obviously quite an honor; however, Bob McWhorter also belongs amongst the best of the very best of Georgia football. 

The Bulldogs have retired the No. 21 jersey for their first Heisman winner, No. 62 for the school's greatest athlete, No. 34 for its all-time most outstanding player, and even No. 40 for an individual performance during about an eight-minute span of time in the third quarter of the '57 Tech game.  Accordingly, Georgia should also retire the football jersey of the most valuable player in the program's history.

As far as an actual Bob McWhorter-worn jersey that could be displayed during a retirement ceremony, I assume that particular piece of uniform  would be rather difficult to locate after a century.  However, as far as what numbered jersey should be retired in his honor, I have a suggestion.  McWhorter's number "100" could be retired during this upcoming season, signifying how many years since the completion of a brilliant Georgia football career, and how long it actually took to recognize someone who should have been honored so much longer ago. 

May 8, 2013

Big TEAM, Little trippi

Charley recently with his Rose
Bowl Player of the Game Award
I was catching up on some reading when I discovered an article that appeared in USA Today just prior to the NFL Draft on Charley Trippi. Charley, the oldest living No. 1 pick, is apparently not interested in the modern-day draft, where "big money" has made the annual event less interesting to the living legend. And, that makes perfect sense to me.
Not long before Charley's interview with USA Today, I happened to interview him at his home for my current book project. His "game of his life" while at Georgia was the 9-0 blanking of UCLA in the 1943 Rose Bowl.
Charley revealed very little to me regarding his individual play against the Bruins—a game MVP performance that included 130 rushing yards on 27 carries, nearly 100 passing yards, an interception on defense, and a 49.5-yard punting average by the sophomore halfback. I had to pry any individual game details out of him. Instead, Charley wanted to discuss the team's eye-opening trip to Pasadena and nearby Hollywood, and most importantly, the tribute the Bulldogs gave during the game to the sport's best player that season.
Prior to the interview, I was aware that Charley's extraordinary Rose Bowl performance did not include him scoring. The game's lone touchdown resulted on a short run by Heisman-winning Frank Sinkwich, who was limited during the game because of injuries. Playing on two injured ankles, Sinkwich threw two interceptions, lost a fumble, and gained only 20 rushing yards on 10 carries. Nevertheless, what would be his final carry as a Bulldog was the ultimate way to end a career, and the ultimate tribute a team could give its wounded leader.
Coach Wally Butts was big on scrimmaging, so much so he made the team scrimmage during its trip by train to California. "[Butts] was not about to go two or three days without a practice," Charley informed me. "We stopped, scrimmaged, got back on the train to spend the night, and then went on to California." Upon arrival, the Bulldogs began scrimmaging again and quite often, while rather intensely.

"After a scrimmage in California, Coach Butts approached me and said that Frank had been injured; one ankle was hurt rather badly while the other was swollen," Charley said. "Butts told me that Frank would be limited and I would 'have to go all the way'--carry the load of the team's carries and maybe play the entire game." However, the head coach, his sophomore sensation, and the rest of the team's offense (minus Sinkwich) agreed that if the team ever got close to UCLA's goal line, even if it was on multiple occasions, the injured Sinkwich would be handed the ball for an opportunity to score a touchdown.
On the final play of the third quarter during a scoreless tie, Sinkwich was given his first chance from the opponent's one-yard line, but lost a fumble recovered by UCLA's Albert Izmirian. In an era when teams often punted prior to facing fourth down, the Bruins punted on the very next play and had it blocked out of the end zone, scoring a safety for Georgia. After a couple of changes of possessions, the Bulldogs began a drive from UCLA's 25-yard line after an interception by Clyde Ehrhardt.
"Following one play, Frank got up hobbling so badly that we tried to send him to the sideline, but he refused to leave the game," Trippi said of Georgia's touchdown drive. "On the next play, he was given the ball, but then handed it to me on a reverse for a gain of about six or seven yards. Finally, facing second down and goal from the one-yard line, we called timeout."
For what Charley believes was the only play he missed the entire game offensively or defensively, he went to the sideline as Sinkwich was inserted at left halfback. Sinkwich was then given another chance, running at right tackle before being spun sideways by a Bruin defender. He just got over the goal line, scoring the game’s only touchdown with about seven-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Ehrhardt's interception, Sinkwich's touchdown, and fans tear down the goal posts following Georgia's 9-0 victory:

Charley concluded his memory of the Rose Bowl with the following: "We wanted to pay tribute to Frank for the great career he had at Georgia and he delivered by scoring a touchdown in the Rose Bowl.  In the sport’s greatest game, what a way for Frank Sinkwich to complete his college career!"
Remember, Charley was asked to describe the game of his life...
I've known Charley for about five or six years and of all former Georgia players, I've probably interviewed him more than any other.  I can honestly say he is one of the most gracious and selfless people I know.  Reading that the Bulldog great has no interest in an annual showcase filled with glitz, instant millionaires, and individualism makes perfect sense to me. 
The ultimate team player, who was part of perhaps the ultimate tribute to a teammate in UGA football history, continues to believe in a "Big team, Little me" approach.